A woman stands in a room wearing a purple t shirt. Her back is to the camera and the t-shirt says 'I am a woman with disability; I have rights too, respect them'

Grantee stories

Promoting the rights of persons with disabilities through policy and law change in Nigeria

Grantee Partner: Voice of Disability Initiative

Grant type: Strengthening

Priorities: Stigma, Access

Country: Nigeria

Voice of Disability Initiative (VDI) share how they campaigned for the implementation of a law to support the rights of persons with disabilities in Enugu State, Nigeria.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and every citizen has the right to freedom from discrimination. These provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of December 1948 and Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria aim to ensure that every person in Nigeria can live freely, in dignity, and with the resources they need to thrive. However, persons with disabilities in Nigeria, especially women and girls, are instead faced with persistent stigma, discrimination, and barriers to accessing basic social services and economic opportunities due to religious or cultural norms and beliefs surrounding disability.

Further barriers exist for women and girls with disabilities when accessing sexual and reproductive health services, principally due to the non-existence of laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities or poor implementation of such laws in states where they exist.  Negative attitudes towards accessing services often manifest in rejection, neglect, or denial of identify or self-worth, and often result in low self-esteem, depression, and isolation for women and girls with disabilities.

A large group of people are posing outside of a building, in front of a banner. Some people are standing, some people are in wheelchairs. They are all smiling at the camera.
Group of participants from one of the advocacy workshops

However, the movement by Voice of Disability Initiative (VDI) has begun to change the prevailing social narrative around disability, moving away from seeing persons with disabilities as objects of charity towards acknowledging them as active, engaged members of society.

VDI is a women-led organization of persons with disability and is at the forefront of disability inclusion advocacy in Nigeria. Established in March 2014, VDI’s mission is to advocate for the protection of rights of women, girls and children with disability and mainstreaming of disability-inclusive programmes into government strategy in Nigeria. VDI pursues the principles of inclusion and guided by the mantra ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’.

Since its establishment, VDI has been at the forefront of advocacy for disability inclusion, demystifying disabilities and giving a human face and voice to the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, especially women and girls. VDI promotes disability-friendly environments, inclusive education, access to sexual and reproductive health services and elimination of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities. Our collective work builds and enhances the capacity of our members—women and girls with disabilities—to direct the course of the political, institutional and cultural contexts shaping our lives. We refuse to be silent about our social conditions and are championing and claiming our fundamental human rights by holding government accountable for their actions or inactions.

In July 2021 VDI launched a project titled “Disability Right Matters – Advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women with disabilities in Nigeria”. The project was implemented in three states in Nigeria – Enugu, Benue and Abuja, with the aim to influence decision makers to provide non-discriminatory and non-coercive sexual and reproductive health services for women with disabilities. Key successes of the project include increased awareness of SRHR among women with disabilities, increased engagement of disability rights and SRHR advocates on public policies and initiatives discourse that impact the lives of women with disabilities, increased solidarity and public support towards the SRH rights of women with disabilities, and increased visibility and leadership of VDI on issues that impact on the rights of women with disabilities.

A group of seven people pose for a photo outside of a building that has a government crest on the front.
The VDI team pose with stakeholders outside of a government building

The clamour for a law to protect the right of persons with disabilities in Enugu State got a boost when VDI through their project brought various stakeholders together, including government, civil society and disabled peoples organizations to discuss strategies for the domestication of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act in Enugu State. Throughout 2022, VDI and their partners led a series of advocacy meetings with key stakeholders in Enugu State. Through a direct meeting between the government and disability community, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu States, reaffirmed his commitment to the disability community and reiterated willingness to do everything possible to ensure that Enugu State enacts a law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

In fulfilment of his promise to the disability community, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi signed  the Discrimination  Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Bill into law on 23rd April 2023. By this action, the governor demonstrated commitment and leadership in providing a framework for a just and inclusive society that is worthy of emulation by his counterparts in other states in Nigeria where such need exists.

Building on this incredible success, VDI will consolidate these achievements, engage more partners and networks to solidify our advocacy initiative, and mobilize additional resources for expansion and sustainability of our programmes. Further opportunity to learn from the experiences of other civil society organisations and AmplifyChange grantee partners and creating sustained partnerships will strengthen and advance VDI’s work to improve policies and access to services for persons with disabilities.

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